The Afghanistan-Pakistan Hands Program

By Maj. Mark W. LeeFebruary 12, 2014

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(Photo Credit: U.S. Army) VIEW ORIGINAL

In the 1940s, a group of service members, diplomats, and journalists possessing knowledge of Chinese language, culture, and people were known as ''China Hands." Now, the term ''Afghanistan-Pakistan (AFPAK) Hands" refers to a cadre of financial management service members and civilians with language and cultural training focused on regions in Pakistan and Afghanistan.

The AFPAK Hands (APH) Program was established in late 2009 to fill a need for individuals who knew the culture, language, history, politics, and other aspects of the Afghanistan and Pakistan region. The AFPAK Hands are financial managers from the Army, Air Force, Navy, and Marine Corps specifically selected and trained as experts in the Afghan and Pakistani cultures and their financial management processes and systems.

The APH Program is making progress in some of the most troubled areas. The intent of the program is to have the AFPAK Hands establish close working relationships with their counterparts in the respective countries.


The Joint Staff Pakistan Afghanistan coordination cell provides guidance and oversight to the APH Program and selects highly qualified AFPAK Hands candidates from the military, the State Department, and Department of Air Force, Army, and Navy civilians. AFPAK Hands are officers, noncommissioned officers, and Department of Defense civilian financial managers.

The AFPAK Hands Management Element coordinates the assignment of personnel between training, in-theater, and out-of-theater assignments. The element is part of the Joint Staff's Pakistan Afghanistan coordination cell and has human resources experts from each service who coordinate training and assignments.


Initial training is intensive and lasts five to seven months. AFPAK Hands learn the language and culture and become familiar with many other aspects of Afghanistan and Pakistan to include customs, politics, economy, governance, development, counterinsurgency, and the military situation. After initial training in Washington, D.C., and at Fort Polk, La., the financial managers receive a week of training at a Counterinsurgency Training Academy located in the D.C. or Tampa, Fla., areas. The AFPAK Hands also take a week-long Individual Terrorism Awareness Course in Virginia or West Virginia, which involves small-arms and driver's training.

AFPAK Hands training has four phases. Phase I is stateside, Phase II takes place overseas, Phase III is stateside additional institutional training, and phase IV is additional language training.

PHASE I. The financial managers attend training in Washington, D.C., and at Ft. Polk and then take a four-month language course at Rosslyn, Va., or St. Petersburg, Fla., in Dari, Pashto, or Urdu. The Defense Language Institute Foreign Language Center provides language training support.

PHASE II. The second phase is a yearlong deployment to Afghanistan or Pakistan. AFPAK Hands are employed differently with some doing a true financial management job while others are staff officers bringing financial management expertise to their organization. I was one of three ministerial advisers to the Ministry of Finance and the Ministry of Commerce and Industry. During the overseas tour, the financial managers are encouraged to participate in distance learning language training.

PHASE III. The financial managers redeploy to Washington, D.C., or MacDill Air Force Base, in Tampa, Fla., for a 14-month assignment. During this phase, the financial managers receive residence language training two hours a week at the respective language center.

Typically, the financial managers in Washington, D.C., attend Intermediate Level Education, obtain a master's degree at the National Defense University at Fort McNair or a nearby college or university, complete a fellowship in the D.C. area, or go to work at the Pentagon or Defense Intelligence Agency.

The financial managers in Tampa work for the U.S. Central Command, U.S. Southern Command, or U.S. Special Operations Command Central where they return to the unit or section they were assigned to before attending the language school in St. Petersburg.

PHASE IV. This follow-on four months of language and cultural training tends to be more comprehensive than Phase I training. Once in a while, a financial manager is given a new language other than the original language learned in Phase I.


After training, the AFPAK Hands deploy again. Frequently, the financial managers are given different assignments from those of their first deployments. Customarily, Army or Air Force personnel become either ministerial advisers in the ministry of finance or work in a billet under the Combined Security Transition Command-Afghanistan or NATO finance comptroller. Many AFPAK Hands work at the ministry level as mentors where they interact with senior Afghan or Pakistani military or civil authorities.

In Afghanistan some financial managers find themselves at provincial or district government centers where they work on security, governance, and development issues. A few have been assigned to provisional reconstruction teams. Others fill staff billets in Kabul or regional command headquarters that have nothing to do with the intensive training they received or only interact with their Afghan counterparts on a limited basis.

The Combined Forces Special Operations Component Command-Afghanistan (CFSOCC-A) uses AFPAK Hands best. Most AFPAK Hands assigned to CFSOCC-A are sent to work throughout Afghanistan assisting in the CFSOCC-A Village Stability Operations program as members of district augmentation teams, provincial augmentation teams, or regional village stability coordination centers.

Many AFPAK Hands have great freedom in their movement and activities. Many do not wear uniforms and grow beards or goatees in order to fit into their work environment (Afghan government offices and ministries). Some AFPAK Hands have freedom to move off forward operating bases, while others remain behind desks at major command headquarters.


A key element of the APH Program is that upon return to the United States, Afghanistan and Pakistan experts do not go on to other assignments where their recently gained experience is no longer used. Instead, they take jobs that use their newly developed knowledge. Members commit to a three to four year assignment in the program with a strong possibility of serving at least two tours in either Afghanistan or Pakistan.

The APH Program is an example of one of the things we have done right in Afghanistan. By early 2012, the first and second cohorts of approximately 180 individuals had completed their yearlong tours in the region. As of April 2012, there were plans to expand the working relationship of AFPAK Hands with special operations forces in the Village Stability Operations program as part of the transition and stay behind forces of 2013 and 2014. As of June 2013, 230 AFPAK Hands were dispersed throughout Afghanistan and approximately 700 were in some stage of training or employment.

The military needs to stick with this program and continue to improve it. Other governmental agencies, such as the U.S. Agency for International Development, should also consider similar programs.


Maj. Mark W. Lee is an Afghanistan-Pakistan comptroller and resource manager instructor at the U.S. Central Command and a ministerial advisor at Afghanistan's Ministry of Finance in Kabul, Afghanistan. He holds a B.S. degree in mathematics, an MBA with a concentration in public administration, and M.Ed., J.D., and Ph.D. degrees.

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